Susan Page: When the US entered World War II, FDR set as the nation's military aim the complete and unconditional surrender of the Axis forces. The US played a key role in liberating the world from the threat of Nazism and Fascism. But, according the author James Carroll, that victory and its aftermath unleashed forces that militarized the American government, pushed us to the brink of nuclear holocaust, and drives decisions in foreign policy and national security to this day. James Carroll has written the story, as he sees it, of this transformation and its roots in the Pentagon. His book is called "House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power." James Carroll, welcome to the Diane Rehm show!
James Carroll: Thank you so much, Susan!
Page: We're going to invite our listeners to join this conversation later in the hour... The story of the Pentagon is a personal story for you, in a way. Tell us how you first came to know the building.
Carroll: My dad worked at the Pentagon beginning when I was four or five years old and I had the great privilege -- that's how I think of it -- of being brought there as a child. As I recall, especially on Saturdays my dad would let me tag along with him and he would set me loose in the corridors of the Pentagon while he went to work. The ramps were a special heaven. I'd wait for when no one seemed to be watching and slip off my shoes and slide down the ramps in my stocking feet. That intimate playground feeling of the Pentagon was my first introduction to it. This is, of course, the post World War II period. I came into consciousness aware of the heroes of America's war against fascism. It was, in a way, a kind of holy ground for me. And then as a young teenager, I went to high school in Washington, and I would stop at the Pentagon on the way home from school, do my homework while waiting for dad to finish work, and then drive home with him. And so on. Until actually the late '60's when I found myself on the other side as a young antiwar activist.
Page: But as a young boy, when you were playing, did it seem like a very huge forbidding place or not?
Carroll: Well, no. It was huge, of course. I was aware of it as the largest building in the nation or maybe the world -- I forget! We talked about it. The marvels of its size are well-documented and often remarked upon. The many, many water fountains. I remember having a resolution to drink from every one! The many, many snack bars with long rows of swivel stools -- I remember trying to set the stools swiveling. I was obsessed with the clock room. And especially I remember vividly the clock under which was the word "Moscow" because Moscow loomed in the American imagination, even a child's, as the dead center of the Great Enemy.
Page: And what is the clock room?
Carroll: The clock room, as I remember it, was a room that had all of the clocks set to various places in the world. One large world with many clocks. London, Berlin, Rome, it probably said "Peking," Moscow -- the truth is, Susan, who knows what it really was! It seems like kind of a labor-intensive way to keep track of time, doesn't it!
Page: And what did your father do at the Pentagon?
Carroll: My father had an extraordinary career. He was an Air Force officer. He was the founding director of the Office of Special Investigations, the US Air Force security and espionage agency -- which is still thriving and an important Air Force agency. And he was, after than, founding director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, stayed as director I believe longer than anyone else who served as director even today. From the summer in 1962 through his retirement towards the end of 1969.
Page: As you said, you found yourself later on the other side from the Pentagon as a war protester.
Carroll: Right. There was that famous kind of era-changing demonstration in October '67 that Norman Mailer chronicled in his great work, "Armies of the Night." I was there. I was a Catholic seminarian at the time, attending seminary in the far side of Washington. I went to the demonstration feeling a tremulous sense of worry and foreboding about what I was doing. I loved, and it's not too much to say I worshipped my father. He was a great man and he was a man of high virtue. And to associate myself with critics of the war that he was deeply involved in was a transcendent event for me. It changed my life and effectively went on to radically alter my relationship with my father. I then became a Catholic priest and associated myself with the Berrigan wing of the Catholic peace movement. By the time the war in Vietnam was over, my entire relationship to Dad certainly -- and to the building itself --were upended.
Page: What made you want, then, to write a history of the Pentagon which is more than a history of the building. It's a telling of the rise of the military-industrial complex. It talks about the force of the Pentagon in modern American politics. What prompted you to want to write this book?
Carroll: The Pentagon was dedicated in the week I was born. The Pentagon and I are almost exactly the same age... I think of myself as the Pentagon's dark twin -- or maybe it's my dark twin. I'm deeply committed to... add my voice to the voices of those who are trying to find another way to live than by war. The present war in Iraq is deeply disturbing to me and many, many Americans. This book is an argument against war. It's an argument against many assumptions that became conventional wisdom in America after World War II, during World War II, during the Cold War. I determined to look as closely as I could at the literature of the Cold War, at the history of this nation's attitudes toward war, and to interview as many people as I could who had direct experience of those years to try to understand how we became the nation that we are. We're a nation all too readily going to war, where the nation spends more on the military than all other nations in the world combined. It doesn't buy us very much. This tragic war in Iraq is a revelation of deep American mistakes. It isn't simply the Bush administration's mistake. This is a mistake that has its roots deep into the history of this country through the last half of the 20th century. So I wrote this book to try to understand it. Another way to put it, without attempting at all to sound grandiose -- I hope! -- I wrote this book to do something about the coming war, to try to help stop it. And that's a commission I feel I did inherit from my father.
Page:...You talk in the book about a series of things that happened in the third week of January, 1943, when the Pentagon was dedicated, when you were born, and several other things happened that you follow as important omens of what was to follow. What else happened?
Carroll: It's true. It was a momentous week, not much commented about in history. In that week in January, between the 15th and the 23rd. The building was dedicated on January 15th. President Roosevelt wasn't present for the dedication because he was in Casablanca with Churchill. Together they issued the Declaration that the Allied war aim from that moment on was going to be the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers. Unconditional surrender began to inform the American war effort and the direct result of that was a savage conclusion to World War II that amounted to an orgasm of destruction and killing that we have yet to account for in this country or yet to reckon with. In the last six months of WWII, American and Allied British bombers killed something in excess of a million civilians in Europe and in Japan. I call it the "second original sin." The first original sin for America was slavery. This savage assault against civilians had its origins in the spirit of total war that was initiated with Roosevelt's and Churchill's Declaration of Unconditional Surrender. The second thing that happened that week, oddly enough, was the coming of the means of total destruction, because that was the week in which Los Alamos was finally up and going. The Manhattan Project, formally begun the previous autumn, really begins to take off at that point in January. So unconditional surrender, the spirit of unconditional destruction, nuclear weapons really begin to be born that week. And the third thing that happened was British and American air forces joined in a combined bomber offensive called "Operation Point Blank." It was targetting German cities for the first time. American Army Air Forces actually beginning a strategy of bombardment from the air which changed martial war, it changed the way in which war is waged. So those three things all began the same week.
Page: On the question of unconditional surrender, you tell a wonderful anecdote about whether Churchill was on board with the idea of FDR's declaration that that...
Carroll: Well, historians tell us that in Casablanca Roosevelt and Churchill discussed whether to do this or not. They didn't come to a conclusion. Churchill believed that you should always leave the enemy an out and he was afraid of exactly what came to pass, that there would be such desperate resistance at the end that the violence would be far in excess of what was otherwise necessary. We in America haven't reckoned with the kind of violence we wreaked at the end of WWII. So they didn't come to an agreement. Roosevelt, at the press conference at Casablanca, announced this policy, claiming that this was just a thought that had popped into his head. Roosevelt, of course, was not telling the full truth there.
Page:...[break, recap] James Carroll is also the author of "Constantine's Sword," and won the National Book Award for his book, "An American Requiem." Before the break, we were talking about these combinations of events happening during this week in 1943. I wonder how they then played out over the decades that followed in terms of American foreign policy.
Carroll: Let me give you an example of the importance of air war. We take it for granted but we should think more directly about it. The Soviet Union under Josef Stalin didn't hate to use what we normally call the tactics of war crimes in waging war: rape, pillage, the murder of civilians. The British and Americans would never engage in warfare like that. There were clear moral distinctions and there were clear attempts to wage war ethically and morally. With air war, that changed. Things that we would never condone if done on the ground we didn't hesitate to do from the air. The killing of civilians, most obviously. We killed more than a million civilians at the end of WWII -- we the Allied Air Forces, especially the US. That made the waging of war a kind of abstraction that the American people really never looked at directly again. So air war itself changed the dynamic of war, made it easier for us to go to war because it was abstract. We've rarely experienced directly what war really involves, and with air war something new happened. The other major thing that we have to fully reckon with is the impact on our culture of having built our strategic power on nuclear weapons. The nuclear arsenal that mushroomed unconscionably during the Cold War, accumulating eventually something like forty or fifty thousand nuclear weapons on our side alone with the other side, the Soviets, matching it -- more or less. The madness of that and the danger to the future of the earth of that is still something we haven't fully reckoned with. How do I know? Because we haven't significantly moved away from having a nuclear arsenal. It's smaller now, but it's still thousands of nuclear warheads, vastly more than we need even for deterrence. And our nuclear insecurity is worse not better. Post 9/11 we're obsessed, of course, with preventing a rogue state from having a nuclear weapon. The nightmare of the Cold War seemed in a way to come true for us on 9/11. The collapse of the World Trade Center was like that mushroom cloud that especially people of my generation have been dreading our whole lives long. We even, as [?] pointed out to me once, dubbed it "ground zero." Why is it "ground zero"? Ground zero is the target place for a nuclear weapon. And now with politics in Iraq and Iran and North Korea, we still see the insecurity of the world because of these weapons is getting worse...
Page: But of course a critic, someone who disagrees with you, might say that in WWII the US and our allies defeated Nazism and Fascism and that in the Cold War with this huge build-up of nuclear and other forces in fact ended peacefully and in a successful way in terms of democracy and defeating communism, and aren't those success stories?
Carroll: Yes. They are indeed success stories and we should be aware of what led to them. First of all, after WWII, it's important to recall that generation of statesmen who led that victory all understood that we had to now move away dependence on wars as a way of resolving international conflict. No one was more peace-like -- and the rhetoric was never more peaceful -- than after WWII. All of the great figures in the US. That was the founding of the UN. That was an alternative to war. The Cold War trumped all of that. We moved to the precipice of a savage conflict with the Soviet Union. I give full credit to the generation of people who brought us through the Cold War, resolving it non-violently, especially through the non-violent alternative to war which was the arms control process and treaties. But one of the things that I'm fully aware of now is how lucky we were that we survived the Cold War without recourse to nuclear holocaust -- first. And secondly, that the great lesson of the Cold War has already been forgotten, which was that nuclear weapons themselves are a mortal threat to the future of the human race and we simply have to get rid of them. That was conventional wisdom as recently as the administration of Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was a great nuclear abolitionist. He promised the American people that nothing was more important than ridding the world of nuclear weapons. You don't hear talk like that anymore, not even from liberals. .. a terrible way in which nuclear weapons have become accepted again.
Page: And, in fact, at the time President Reagan said that, it was to the great alarm of many of his own advisers and people in his own party.
Carroll: It's true. No one was more freaked out by Reagan's dream of a nuclear-free world than the hawkish inner circle who were around him, which was one of the reasons why they supported him in his wild fantasy of the Stratetic Defense Initiative. But we should remember this about Reagan: it was because he understood the primacy of ridding the world of nuclear weapons that he was able to respond to the radical initiatives taken by Mikhail Gorbachev. And that relationship -- Reagan's responses to Gorbachev -- was the great triumph of the Cold War. Together they enabled an end to the Cold War non-violently. Of course we simply must honor Gorbachev as the person who carried the initiative on that.
Page: But certainly Mikhail Gorbachev couldn't have succeeded without Ronald Reagan...
Carroll: ...Ronald Reagan against his advisers was responsive again and again and again to Gorbachev. And every time, depending on advice, Reagan said "no" to Gorbachev, Gorbachev came back quickly and told Reagan he would not take "no" for an answer. The next thing you know, these two people had turned the arms race back on itself.
Page: One of the very interesting things about your book is the way that your own story keeps intertwining with the bigger story that you're telling. Tell us about, in this connection, how your father's career ended.
Carroll: Well, you know, one of the things that we're obsessed with in contemporary politics is intelligence and the reliability of intelligence. And whether intelligence gets corrupted when it's yoked to political agendas. My father was the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the end of the 1960's when the question of the anti-ballistic missile became important in America. Under Johnson and McNamara, the US government had decided against moving toward an ABM for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that there was no sign that the Soviet Union was embarked on a strategy to try to develop a first-strike capability. Which would have made the ABM a reasonable response. Intelligence suggested that the Soviet Union had no such ambition. The DIA and the CIA were in agreement about that. The Nixon administration came in, and Richard Nixon was quick to announce that he would be embarking on moves toward deployment of the ABM system. In the political heat of the argument that followed during the first six or eight months of 1969 of the Nixon administration, intelligence became the key issue. Did the intelligence suggest that the Soviet Union was going for a first strike or not? And politicans said it was. And the intelligence establishment -- the CIA, the DIA -- both agreed it wasn't. And in the middle of that controversy my father was abruptly retired, I believe, because of his refusal to allow intelligence estimates to be corrupted by political purposes.
Page: I want to go to the phones and some of our callers who have been waiting. ...Dan is calling us from Tulsa, OK.
Dan: Let me preface this by saying that I have not read the gentleman's book yet, but I'm really looking forward to it now because it has such resonance with my own personal experience. I'm 51 and I went through a similar situation as he. During the Vietnam era, my dad was a two-time veteran there. Of course, as I was coming of age and was fortunate enough to get an education, I was on the other side of the fence also. During that time, it was kind of a special time between me and him. Many years later we were fishing and he sat there and he was looking at me and he goes, "Son, if there's another war on Vietnam, please don't send my grandchildren." He had flopped the other way from being a super patriot. We kind of resolved our relationship. Unfortunately, a few years later he died as a result of handling nuclear weapons. He had several tumors in his brain. What I was wondering is if the author had resolved his relationship with his father later.
Page: It's good to hear that you did resolve you relationship with your own dad. James Carroll?
Carroll: Well, like many people of my generation, my relationship with my parents was really broken by the war in Vietnam. The sad part is I didn't ever fully resolve my relationship with my dad. He became ill and died before that was possible, although he lingered for quite a while. Though in a more basic way I would claim this kind of reconciliation with my father: the most important legacy I have from him is he let me see how concerned he was about the future of our nation and the world because of nuclear weapons. He had a very close look at American policies and at attitudes about nuclear weapons. We lived next door to Curtis LeMay. Curtis LeMay was my father's boss. Curtis LeMay was one of the people who embraced, in a very uncritical way, the nuclear doctrine and my father was really terrified by what he saw possibly coming. And he told me that, and he also told me that he didn't believe that human beings would survive, as he put it, the century if we don't change the way we resolve our conflicts with each other. He was talking about the 20th century. But we did survive the 20th century because of unexpected events, none more unexpected than the arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev. But I'm convinced that my father's concern is as relevant now as it was then, and I do claim a kind continuity with his concern and his work.
Page: Curtis LeMay is one of the several big characters in your book. LeMay was the lead pilot for the bombing runs that began.
Carroll: Curtis LeMay led the... was at the stick of the first B-17 bombing run against a city in Germany in 1943. He was a hero to the 8th Air Force and it's easy to see why. This was a man who led from the front, never asked his officers and men to take any risk he wouldn't take. And he was revered for that. But he was also a man who had a very, very simplistic notion of the realities of war. So when he was put in charge of the Strategic Air Command through the 1950's, he presided over the creation of a true monster which was a massively overblown nuclear arsenal and a readiness to use it indiscriminately. It was really only because of the arrival of Robert McNamara in the Kennedy administration that LeMay was directly challenged and that's a very powerful story. Robert McNamara's challenge to LeMay was heroic in my view. And yet not even he was successful in wresting control of the nuclear arsenal from the bomber generals. It's, again, one of the stories Americans should know more directly.
Page: You talk about the apostolic succession. What does that mean?
Carroll: I'm a Catholic. The apostolic succession is a phrase that refers to handing on of the power of the Church from St. Peter forward through the bishops. I use the analogy with the handing on of powers of nuclear assumptions and strategic air war and the entire dynamic toward war that's generated in the Pentagon, a succession that begins with James Forrestal who was the first Secretary of Defense. Forrestal was a man who embraced a paranoid notion of Soviet threats. He put in place... He was the single most important architect, I argue, with early American Cold War mentality. He was the sponsor of George Kennan's important "long telegram" and "Mr. X" article. He embraced a kind of quasi-religious notion of the threat from Soviet communism. He saw the world in radical good and evil terms. He was, in that sense, a Manichean. Every threat loomed so large in his imagination that he argued we had to be doubly, triply quadrupally prepared to meet it. It was under Forrestal that this terrible mindset really took hold in the Pentagon and in America. He had protegés. His first protegé was George Kennan. The equal to Kennan in those years was a young man named Paul Nitze who had come down to Washington with Forrestal from Wall Street. Nitze and Kennan became competing protegés. When Kennan, seeing what happened to Forrestal, was appalled and frightened by it, Forrestal's political paranoia had a personal aspect and he wound up committing suicide having been reported only a few days before he was institutionalized and found in the streets in his pajamas screaming, "The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!" It seems like something out of a film but it happened. Or is reported to have happened. That's the defining moment at the beginning of a particularly paranoid mindset in American. It was carried forward by a succession of figures. Paul Nitze. When George Kennan went soft, as they said, and began to argue against the military definitions of containment in favor of political and economic, he was replaced by Paul Nitze. The person who succeeded Forrestal in carrying forward this mindset was Dean Acheson, shifting militarism from the Pentagon to the State Department -- so the State Department begins to be a kind of annex of the Pentagon which continues in the late 1950's with John Foster Dulles. But Paul Nitze carries the apostolic succession forward to his protegés in 1969. You'll recall that Nitze served seven or eight American presidents. Always a hawk. Always pushing forward the notion that the threat must be met, the threat is coming, the threat is coming. His young protegés in 1969 were Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, bringing us forward into more recent times. Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld come into the succession. So in the Pentagon today, there's a direct continuity to the mindset put in place by James Forrestal, the paranoid.
Page: Some very familiar names there in the current administration. I think there are those in the State Department who would argue they are not in the thrall of the Pentagon. And you do see even now the tension between the State Department and the Pentagon and most recently public disagreements between Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, and Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, on how things are going in Iraq.
Carroll: It's true. We shouldn't make too much of these disagreements. The substantial commitment of the State Department is to support the military agenda of the US. You can just see this in the budget. What are the comparable budgets? The budget of the Defense Department is overwhelmingly -- one can hardly put a number on it! -- overwhelmingly so much the center of the American enterprise. The money we spent preparing for war, as opposed to working to prevent war, is huge. And it's preventing war that is the work of diplomacy.
Page: [break, recap] I'd like to have you read a short excerpt from your book to give listeners just a sense of it.
Carroll: Certainly. "If the past is a foreign country, then our concern is not only to map it but to understand its citizens. Our concern is not only with what happened but how it felt and how it set other things moving in the public realm and in the human heart. Can we compare the joyous fall of the Berlin Wall with the murderous destruction of the World Trade Center or the attack on the Pentagon? Can we compare, that is, 11/9 with 9/11? Thucydides, driven from Athens, wrote the history of the Peloponnesian War for, as he put it, 'those who want to understand clearly the events which happened in the past and which, human nature being what it is, will at some time or other and in much the same way be repeated in the future.' George W. Bush was not the first American president to contemplate preventive war, if he was the first to wage one. James Forrestal was the first Secretary of Defense and the only one to commit suicide. Robert McNamara asked to see the Pentagon's war plans and was told by generals he lacked clearance. Aerospace manufacturers created for their enterprise an unchecked exceptionalism, salting the earth with an excess of nuclear warheads, that has yet to be explained or checked. Jimmy Carter wanted total disarmament too much. And Ronald Reagan nearly achieved it through his very belligerence. Bill Clinton was a war resister who could not find a way to resist the war ethos at a crucial moment. The brass hats were never unifical in their approach to questions of war and peace. Indeed, they had regularly to restrain their civilian overseers who came and went like seasonal birds. The nation, meanwhile, grew so dependent on the idea of imminent war as a source of identity and prosperity that the idea survived even when its animating enemy disappeared. Always the building held fast to its purpose which came closest to fullfillment with the arrival of Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and what became openly acknowledged as an American Empire. The Pentagon, world capital of a 21st century pax Americana, that assumed, like Thucydides, the permanence of war, at last had a function worthy of its monumentality. The future met its past."
Page:...We've gotten several emails questioning your earlier comment about one million civilians being killed by allied forces at the end of WWII. Here's one from Brian in Fairfax, VA. He says: "Atrocities by the Germans, shooting and starving civilians in Holland, death marches... Exactly what is your solution, sir, bomb them with lilies? Your statements are naive and silly and do injustice to the lives of thousands of Allied soldiers. It must be very comforting to you to revise history from the comfort of your armchair." How would you respond to Brian?
Carroll: With due respect, it isn't revising history. The facts of the deaths at the end of WWII are established by historians. We know very well the 100 to 200,000 people who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But horrible as those events were as threshhold nuclear use, those events pale by comparison to what had happened in Japanese cities in the six months prior to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 80-100,000 people in Tokyo. Tens of thousand of people in other Japanese cities over the previous five or six months. Something between 700 and 800,000 people killed in those cities, almost all of them civilians because the military were marshalled away from cities at that point. And that doesn't even count Europe. The 40-50,000 casualties in Dresden -- only the tip of the iceberg. The bombing of German cities at the end of WWII. The cities up and down the heartland of Germany obliterated in that period. A million civilian casualties is a conservative estimate.
Page: We were involved, though, in a terrible world war. Was there an alternative to the strategies that we followed at that point?
Carroll: Well, there must have been. First of all, in relation to Japan, of course, the question of the Japanese surrender is something that now debated by historians. The Japanese sending signals, looking for assurances about the fate of the Emperor, for example. We earlier discussed the consequences of Roosevelt's demand for unconditional surrender. When that was articulated to the Japanese, the Japanese concern was what will happen to the Emperor. And so there was a lack of communication back and forth. Historians are not clear what happened between April and August, just on the Japanese side. But it was very clear that the Japanese were obsessed that their emperor not be treated as Mussolini and Hitler had been treated. They didn't want the emperor lynched or driven to suicide. They wanted assurances about the emperor. We simply wouldn't give them... And of course the irony is, after Nagasaki, when the Japanese did surrender, they didn't actually offer an unconditional surrender. The surrender offer that came after Nagasaki included the assertion that of course the emperor must be protected. Which the Americans accepted. We did not accept the unconditional surrender of Japan. The last thing I intend, and I think readers of my book will see this, is to sit on a moral high horse after the fact and make great luxurious judgments about decisions that were made at the time. My purpose here is not simply to fault Curtis LeMay or General Arnold or General Marshall. On the contrary, I honor them for what was good in what they did. But it's very important that we confront and reckon with the terrible road we found ourselves taking at that moment. The strategic bombing of cities was a disastrous mistake, whatever seemed to justify it at the time. The failure to protect civilians was a disastrous mistake, morally, politically. It haunts us to this day. We stopped distinguishing between civilians and military targets certainly in Japan by the end of WWII. And we simply have to reckon with that.
Page: These are, of course, hard questions. We have an email from Dave in Winston Salem NC and who starts out by saying your book, "Constantine's Sword," is one of personally influential books I've ever read." But he says in terms of our current discussion, "When you look at the brutality of the Soviets, the VietCong, Taliban and Al Qaeda, how can one look at our military complex that we've raised to defend ourselves against these enemies and say it is anything but necessary and good?"
Carroll: Well, mentioning "Constantine's Sword," let me just draw a comparison to my present work. "Constantine's Sword" was a long history of Christian anti-semitism. And what I argued in that book was that you can't understand where the holocaust came from if you can't understand the deep history of Christian anti-judism and anti-semitism. So today, I'm arguing that our present disastrous conflict in the Middle East and the threat we face from deracinated, nihilist terrorists -- we can't understand the terrible place we are in today without going back to the history of American attitudes toward war. As for the brutality and the demonic character of our enemies, we should never demonize our enemies under the assumption that we are radically virtuous. We have to understand that, especially when we conduct operations from the air, the brutality on the ground, the murders of innocent civilians, is part and parcel of war waged from above. And that's been true -- grotesquely true -- at the end of WWII and even in this era of so-called "precision bombing," the shock and awe campaign at the beginning of the war with Iraq which killed civilians. We simply have to be more directly in touch with the consequences of the kind of war we wage now. And of course the ultimate issue is nuclear war and how in the world can we avoid it. It's too complicated to argue further here, but my argument in this book is that our present course makes nuclear war more likely and not less likely.
Page: Let's talk to Sister Ardeth Platt from Baltimore who's called in. Sister, you're on the air...
Platt: Thank you very much, and thank you James Carroll for your ... book. I look forward to reading it. Three of us Dominican sisters completed a Sacred Earth and Space Ploughshares Action in Colorado to bring out the illegal and criminal acts of threatening to use nuclear weapons. It's like a nuclear trigger to the heads of people. We've been in prison from two and a half to three and a half years, just released. What more do you envision that we regular citizens can do to stop the policies of preemptive nuclear strikes and the nuclear power [?] that are not being implemented.
Page: Sister, what was it exactly that you did in Colorado?
Platt: We did a non-violent, symbolic act. All the symbol we used we entered into a nuclear missile that was on high-trigger alert and we tried to, by every of our symbols, show that this was an illegal, criminal act from January 2002 until we did our action in October 2002. Because the threats were at the "axis of evil" countries. We knew there was a plan to go into Iraq. We were passionate about teaching the people about law.
Page: I'm not clear exactly what was it that you did? What were you arrested for?
Platt: We entered into a nuclear missile silo and we did a symbolic act of handling the sword and the ploughshares. We did no destruction at the nuclear site. But we did expose the site. We first inspected it and then we exposed it and then we symbolically disarmed it. To draw attention to what our government was doing.
Page: And you were arrested. What were you charged with?
Platt: We were charged with sabotage and depredation of government property.
Page: And then you actually served time in prison?
Platt: 41 months, 33 months, and 30 months for the three Dominican sisters.
Page: Where did you serve your time?
Platt: I served mine in Danbury...
Page: And how long have you been out of jail?
Platt: Just a few months.
Page: Very interesting. James Carroll?
Carroll: Sister, I'm honored to speak with you. I wish you well. The Ploughshares movement, going back more than 20 years or 25 years, has again and again and again exposed nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are evil. They have no place on the earth. The US is not significantly moving away from its dependence on the nuclear arsenal. The American people simply need to know this. And your actions, Sister, and the actions of the Ploughshares communities, are very important acts of public proclamation that these evil weapons simply must be confronted and they must be done away with. And of course, ironically, you are joined in this opinion though not at all in such actions by a large number of former members of the US strategic force itself. Retired admirals commonly, leaving service, repudiating the whole notion of nuclear war and the existence of nuclear weapons again and again.
Page: Sister, thanks very much for your call... We have an email from Joe who says, "Mr. Carroll spoke earlier about this book being an effort against 'the coming war.' Could he please expand on this comment and his ideas about the coming war."
Carroll: Well, the Bush administration is right to be concerned about the possibility of weapons of mass destruction, especially a nuclear weapon, in the hands of a terrorist. But of course the Bush administration is doing everything wrong as a way of responding to that danger. The coming war that I foresee and I'm very worried about is the one that will follow on this facile division of the world between "us" and "them," especially when the "them" is, whether deliberately or not, increasingly identified with the Muslim world. And when all of this is nuclearized in our present stand-off with Iran, a stand-off that is generated in my view, more by America's misguided policies than by Iran's. It's our embrace of nuclear weapons that motivates the Iranian government to obtain one. And it's now our threatening nuclear use against Iran that makes that motivation urgent for Iran. It's very clear that if we don't change the course we're on, if we don't radically move away from nuclear weapons, immediately downsizing to a very small number that would be sufficient for deterrence, and reembrace as we are bound to by the nuclear proliferation treaty the idea of ultimate elimination of these evil weapons -- if we don't do all of these things, then the 21st century is surely going to be racked with terrible wars. It's the war that my father warned me of and that's still a threat to us.
Page: You are the son of a general. And I wonder what you make of the recent spate of retired generals who have been openly critical of the Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Does that seem unusual to you? Is that a change from the practice of the past?
Carroll: You know, over the past fifteen years there have been a good number of generals who have criticized America's nuclear strategy. Most famous among those was General Lee Butler who had been the commander in chief of the Strategic Command. He was a successor to Curtis LeMay and on retirement became a very outspoken critic of nuclear weapons, nuclear deterrence American policies. Robert Jay Lifton has a phrase. He calls it "retirement syndrome." It's not unusual for men -- and it's almost always men -- who hold these positions of life and death, grave, mortal positions with the future of the human race at stake --it's not unusual for people who upon retirement repudiate the entire enterprise. It began with Secretary of War Stimson who created the nuclear bomb, the atomic bomb, the Manhattan Project, and who immediately upon the end of WWII, right after Nagasaki, upon his retirement really proposed to do away with the American monopoly of the atomic bomb and to share it with the Soviet Union. The man saw the truth of the situation, or saw a way to articulate it, upon his retirement. We saw that again and again. The ultimate instance of this, of course, was Paul Nitze, the hawk of hawks, the man who had done more across a generation to empower nuclear weapons than anyone. Near the end of his life he repudiated the entire idea of nuclear weapons.